CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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The Right Word

January 12, 2015 (permalink)

A thicket is a definite article.  From Fair Diana by Wanderer, 1884.

January 8, 2015 (permalink)

"Colon and Semi-colon," from Buffalo Land by W. E. Webb, 1873.

January 6, 2015 (permalink)

Thanks to Mike Kloran (author of Zombies: The Stinking Dead) for his review of our dictionary of One-Letter Words: "It’s a fun little piece that looks at all the many ways a single letter may be used as a unit of thought, or as we usually call them, words. And we’re not just talking about the article 'a' or the pronoun 'I.' No no. We’re talking about how all the letters of the alphabet have been used as words throughout literature. ... A really fun way to look at the language in a fresh light, even for tired teachers like you and me."

January 4, 2015 (permalink)

From Lays of Modern Oxford by Anon., 1874.

December 31, 2014 (permalink)

"In an atmosphere of Borrioboola-gha."  From Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

December 29, 2014 (permalink)

Futility Closet reminds us that titivil is the name for "a devil said to collect fragments of words dropped, skipped, or mumbled in the recitation of divine service, and to carry them to hell, to be registered against the offender." [OED]

December 24, 2014 (permalink)

December 23, 2014 (permalink)

Our anagram recalls that episode of Seinfeld in which George tires of office Christmas parties and saves money by giving everyone a certificate that a donation has been made in their name to the (fictitious) Human Fund:

December 1, 2014 (permalink)

From Prof. Oddfellow's sketchbook.  For Jeff Hawkins.

November 12, 2014 (permalink)

What's in a name?  Here's Samuel Merry from History of Trumbull and Mahoning Co.'s, 1882.

November 11, 2014 (permalink)

Here's the Forgotten Alphabet, courtesy of Hilary and Jonathan Caws-Elwitt.

October 16, 2014 (permalink)

We disagree with [The Magnetic Fields'] Stephin Merritt that "do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do ... are nonsense syllables." We also disagree that "There are only two, arguably three, one-letter words" (as we elaborately demonstrate in our dictionary of one-letter words). But live and let live. And his book, illustrated by the illustrious Roz Chast, is called 101 Two-Letter Words.  (Pictured below, Prof. Oddfellow measures magnetic fields in honor of Stephin Merritt.)

October 12, 2014 (permalink)

From our one-letter words department, here's the letter T meaning "tea."  Our illustration appears in Gazetteer and Business Directory of Rutland County, Vt., for 1881-82.

October 8, 2014 (permalink)

"'Defamation' was the last word enacted, the second syllable of which, with some liberty taken in the orthography, is represented in the annexed sketch.  Hay (for 'A')."  From Thirty-eight Years in India: From Juganath to the Himalaya Mountains by William Tayler, 1881.

October 3, 2014 (permalink)

"We board the frail vessel words are, sailing to the world's end to find the one word that would render all words superfluous." —Stein Mehren, Fire & Ice: Nine Poets from Scandinavia and the North

September 29, 2014 (permalink)

Leigh Hunt is apparently the only person ever to have referred to an "exactitude of toe" (easiness and endlessness notwithstanding). From The Essays of Leigh Hunt, illustrated by Henry Matthew Brock, 1903.

"'Rot!' I replied, with less elegance than terseness."  From Dariel by Richard Doddridge Blackmore, 1897.

September 26, 2014 (permalink)

"In all we say we are responsible for the final human's final words." —Stein Mehren, Fire & Ice: Nine Poets from Scandinavia and the North

September 6, 2014 (permalink)

"Weltschmerz."  From Peter Ibbetson by George Du Maurier (1892).

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